Friday, August 28, 2020

Wizardry Cds Review

After the captured trophy of We Love Wizardry there remained a palpable gap in my musical experience which was the music from the rest of the series. Since those were Japan-only releases there was an important hurdle from not having any contacts over there. In fact, the only place I could find them, other than the odd-eBay publication, was Amazon.jp. With the lockdown crisis and the fact that I had already waited, literally, decades, I felt that this year was the time to get hold of them. The thing is that I actually picked up very bad time and the exchange rate hit me hard. I managed to get the three titles I was looking for from a single seller but those amounted to close to $200. If it was not now, when?

Some general observations covering all three discs. These came in great shape with no scratches on their surfaces or jewel cases. The accompanying booklets had some foxing marks and provided the score for some of the tracks. Unexpectedly, two of the three came in with their official stickers (I'm not peeling those off anytime soon) and the other with its obi strip tucked between the pages. All of them played flawlessly and everything is still performed mostly on synths. The composer is still Kentaro Haneda. There are no LP releases for these titles. There is no release at all for Wizardry IV.

Wizardry II and III

Legacy carries some steam from Proving Grounds in its music but with less punch. The highlights for this one are the Title Screen and the Temple tracks. Unlike the rest, this one has a bonus playthrough with the original sound and samples for the traps and some other effects. The part that I liked best from the playthrough is the total party kill and their resurrection.

 

Knight of Diamonds is a hodgepodge of styles assigned to the familiar locations. There's classical, Caribbean, samba and metal. It is also unusual in its having an actual guitarist for a few sections in the fighting in victory themes. I'm at a loss to explain what the composer was going for, but while the result is the least Wizardry-like, it is enjoyable.

When it comes to comparing these two to the gold standard, which is the first installment, these two fall moderately strong in terms of engagement. If I were to compare them to contemporary dungeon synth, some of the current artists surpass what is found in these two offerings. While reservedly good, they should probably not rank high in someone's wish list. The prices they're going for make them even less appealing. I had the urge, and had to go for them, but the experience didn't match the outlay.

Both of them just good

 Wizardry V

Heart is the one that returns best to the Proving Grounds roots and in a way can serve as a junior partner to the flagship We Love Wizardry. In fact, with a couple listens in my previous gaming experience, I would say this one comes real close to the first suite, maybe some 7/8 of the way. The selection is very consistent and doesn't sag anywhere. The music for both the upper and lower levels of the dungeon work quite well and the information gathering theme is a fun one. It also has the best ending starting with a good fanfare followed by a medleys of the above-ground locations in a Final Fantasy fashion, closing the chapter with the best aftertaste from all the titles of the series I have listened to.

Now, in terms of dungeon synth, the ingenuity of the composer clearly outshines most of the field. This one is one to get hold of. If you can get the duo of We Love Wizardry and Heart, do so. Their scarcity and prices are still obstacles, but if surmounted, these are sure pay off in enjoyment over the years. Ditto, for any of these two singly.

4 stars

If I'm reading it right, I have still one suite to go from the same composer which is Wizardry VI Cosmic Forge. After the experience with Knight & Legacy, if I ever go for it, I'll check it out before hand on Youtube or somewhere. According to the vgmdb, there are still many other episodes and offshoots which are a total blank for me. Who knows? Maybe I'll be talking to you sometime in the future about the series again.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Outline of Malthus

I'm about to start rereading Malthus' First Essay as a preamble to reading Darwin's Origin of Species in its entirety. I had last year a more limited project in the context of better reading, and thought well to go back to my original notes which I intend to expand. In the meantime, I thought to post them here. As with the last post, Pavlov, this is more of an outline than anything else. The following questions are the ones that I had in mind at the outset. My proposed indents are busted once again, so it is less useful than I wished.

 

  1. Does it really match my own conception?
  2. What is to be done about charity, if true?
  3. What relationship does it have to Japan's current population woes?
  4. What's its influence on Darwin?
  5. How is it organized & how does it help and reading in general?
  6. Can some of the perfectibility still be achieved?

 

 

I

 

The problem:

Either the future holds

Unlimited human improvement or

Swings between happiness & misery

 

Those holding opposing views do not have a frank exchange of ideas

Malthus' ideas have not been adequately explained by others (Smith, Condorcet, Godwin) and he's aware of the burden of proof. Hence he postulates:

 

  1. Food is necessary to the existence of man
  2. The passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state

It, being extinguished (Godwin)-not happening

 

"Unphilosophical to infer, merely from the existence of an exception, that the exception would become the rule and the rule the exception"

 

Hence:

There’s a strong operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence or

The power population is greater than the power of Earth to sustain it

Arithmetical vs geometrical

 

This results in:

  • Misery (necessarily) and vice (probably+) [however, XVIII & XIX offer a way out]
  • That these will fall on some part of society (II, IV)

 

Hence:

Perfectibility is not possible

 

 II- Reason

 

The difference in rates of increase

  • No state has hitherto existed that has had
    • Pure and simple manners
    • Abundant means of subsistence
    • No check to early marriages
    • Or to higher classes out of fear of loss of status

 

The US, however, is close

 

  • The rate of growth of cultivation (England) can scarcely be imagined to keep up a fast rate (with known techniques)

 

  • The urge for population increase

(The nature of checks on animals and plants and humans)

Causes distress in the lower classes &

Prevents any permanent amelioration of their condition

  • Disparity of population versus subsistence
    1. Initial scarcity

Makes poor much worse

Some with severe distress

  1. More laborers results in lower wages

Labor is their only possession (V)

  1. More inflation

 

  1. Checks the rise of population, yet sows improvement in cultivation repeating the cycle

A reason why this hasn't been evident before is that we only have the history of the higher classes

There is an imperfect labor market through rich conspiracies

 

III-States of mankind

 

Savage/hunter state

The struggle for existence

Thin population through scarcity. Increments result in misery (check). The American Indian

 

Shepherds

Large population due to mobility and food resources

Expansion up to a point the misery and vice. The Scythians.

 

IV-Progress of population in civilized nations

 

Increase as compared to former times: industry of the people

 

The case of China

 

The case of Europe: Check to population #1: Preventive foresight (higher classes) (II)

 

"Can a man consent to place the object of his affection in a situation so discordant, probably, to her tastes and inclinations?" Cf. Walden II

 

The case of England

 

V- Check #2: Distress of the lower classes. Poor laws (welfare)

 

These spread the misery even when they benefit the odd individual

 

The sums and length of time have been to no avail

 

The increase of payouts results in

  • Scarcity and inflation

(primary goods, substitutes and basic inputs such as corn)

  • A reduction of productivity

Through leisure

The means of production are another matter though

If the wealth of resources are not directed to productivity

Some benefit, but the rest are harmed as their share of produce is diminished (II)

  • Foments  marriages with no prospects of productive independence since the parish serves as a backup

 

The nonexistence of such gives rise to industry, sobriety, foresight, thriftiness, virtue, happiness

 

So, (the existence of such laws)

  • Weakens the individual morally in his resolve
  • Increases the population without an increase of the means of its support

 

Call for abolition

Stimulus for land productivity

Workhouses for those in distress

 

General checks: unwholesome food & habitation, hard labor,pestilence, war, others

 

VI- New colonies

 

Cases

Increases the population due to an existing reservoir

 

VII

 

Epidemics

Natural and necessary consequence of population growth

Crowding in living spaces

Unwholesome food

Insufficient food

 

The only criterion of real and permanent increase of population is the increase of the means of subsistence

 

Temporal shocks appear to be weathered by lower subsistence i.e. meaner food

 

Happiness is equated to the match between growth rates

 

VIII- Theses by others

 

Wallace

The problem is still far off

 

Condorcet

There is a march towards perfection

Endgame matches Malthus'

 

"When the increase the number of men surpassing their means of subsistence, the necessary result must be either a continual diminution of happiness and population… Or a kind of oscillation between good & evil"

 

Here too the problem is still far off

 

IX

 

Condorcet

The future extension of human life

Confusion between "indefinite" & "unlimited"

Ad continuum fallacy

 

Biological perfectibility

 

X

 

Godwin's (X-XV) view:

"Population perpetually kept down to the level of subsistence"

Counter

A set utopia fails to population growth (cf. Walden II)

Sustainability

Morally (q.v. I, II)

 

Which? – Misery

 

XI- Passion between the sexes

 

XII- Immortality, progress to

 

XIII- Intellectuality of men

 

XIV- Injustice of political institutions

Chain of deduction

 

XV

Poor man's only possession: his physical strength

 

Share among all equally

Idleness

Vice

Diminution of land produce

 

The miser/frugal as enemies

 

XVI

An increased stock benefits the many?

 

XVII- Unproductiveness of wealth and trade to the state

 
XVIII-XIX- Population as an evil to spur on greater good through mind and heart

 

XVIII- Formation of mind

 

Principle of population tells that

No substantial perfectibility can be attained in this earth

 

One must reason for an explanation from nature to God as the contrary is futile

What actually is (apparent?) in nature

 

There appears to be a process

A trial… it is not, but a formation of mind, out from and away from original sin, through general laws towards superior enjoyment

 

Awakeners of mind (problems to be solved; avoid evil & pursue good)

Wants of the body

Necessity

Were produce is abundant:

Few remarkable intellects

(as opposed to temperate zones)

 

Variety (cf. Darwin)

 

These result in intellect and action

 

Spurs mankind to avoid evil & pursue good

Mind is the result of the exertions towards that end

 

The increase of population is a further stimulus

While there is much partial evil, it is more counterbalanced by the good

Middle classes are best positioned to benefit

Call for their relative increase

Disparagement of leisurely

 

XIX- Mind and heart

 

Sorrows & distresses

Necessary for the most part to humanize the heart and bring out Christian virtues

Christian virtues

Misapplied talents

Good

Evil and death

The will of God

 

Moral evil appears to be necessary for the production of moral excellence and it is doled out in measure according to divine plan

 

Nudge into goodnesses

 

Life is a blessing

Constant exertion

Population is part of the means of the development of mind and heart

(Me: Does he think that God wills evil for the generation of good?)

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Outline of Pavlov's lectures on Conditioned Reflexes 1927

What follows is my outline for Pavlov's Lectures Conditioned Reflexes (1927). Bracketed numbers refer to page numbers according Anrep's translation as found in the Classics in the History of Psychology page. The rest are my sparce notes. Had this properly indented to highlight theme hierarchy, but Blogger apparently refuses to comply. I hope for someone, somewhere it shows. I'll add Lectures XVI & XVII in a few days.



Lecture I


Recent physiological investigations
Investigative options
Through (then actual) psychology
Brand-new path of physiology stemming by the reflex as described by Descartes
A necessary reaction to an external stimulus through a definite nervous path
Objective and experimental
Thorndike
Pavlov's own frustrations in subjective methods
25 years of investigations and systematization (at the time of the lectures) with collaborators
Description of reflexes in general
These are for the survival of the organism (through adaptability)
Inhibitory and excitatory
Instincts
Chains of reflexes
Identification of reflexes [12]
Example of freedom reflex
Investigatory reflex
Dynamic balance of reflexes in the organism
Signalization

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Onward to Leithold: Trying to learn Calculus


Since I focused my studies on finance, I never really was taught calculus. During high school I, with a friend, used to marvel at the enormous brick of a book that was kept in the school library The Calculus with Analytic Geometry by Louis Leithold. We were already having a hard time with algebra and imagined how much more difficult would it be to tackle that landmark book.  Picture it: between its covers one was not only getting the spooky, esoteric subject from hushed legend, but also receiving it awash with heaping doses of alchemical geometry. 

Eventually, my friend went on to study mechanical engineering and he did get to read at least some parts of the book. I, however, have remained mostly ignorant of the subject and a bit piqued by the fact that others successfully get hold of the subject all the time while I still lived in the dark ages.

A couple of years back I decided that I too would learn calculus for my own enjoyment and to read the book that has been beckoning to me all this time. For that, I refreshed my knowledge of algebra and took on plane geometry, which was another gap in my mathematical knowledge. I am now at the threshold of precalculus and I thought it would be a good time to start informally chronicling my journey. I am in no rush and this will take a while, but I'm really enjoying the slow pace without any external pressure.

In this post I describe my project in general and give the resources I'll be relying on.

Geometry


I'll start with plane geometry which I'm about to finish. I have been almost exclusively reading on it from Rich's Geometry from Schaum's outlines series. This one is the best I found in my local library and I was fortunate to find it because it clearly states the principles on which each part of the geometry system is built upon; it is very condensed, meaning it has no fluff, and, as with the rest of the series, has loads of exercises. I have worked my way up to loci trying to solve every proposed exercise with pencil and paper and have been generally successful with it: only a few have left me stumped and I feel confident in my acquired knowledge.

As with logic, there's something very soothing in geometry that it's better than chess exercises. While in all three there is mental stimulation, one is left with nothing to show after doing chess problems (other than presumably getting better at it). The other two not only enhance one's skills, but say something about the world and with no competitive pressure.

Precalc


For precalculus I chose Barnett's because my local library had many copies of it and found the more extended treatment of the subject better than Larson's Precalculus: A Graphical Approach which was my second best find. To be frank, this will be my second attempt with it. The previous one I had to cut it short someplace after function transformations because I had a bout of TMS at that time. Now, I'm all fired up back again and bought my own used copy online. Since this is going to be a leisurely stroll, I felt bad about borrowing one copy from the library for such an extended period, months at a time, even if no one else was requesting it; and also because I wanted to have a good reference book on the topics covered when I finally moved on to calculus proper.

Graphing calculator


I soon saw the need for a graphing calculator. My first shot was my brother's old HP 48 SX which he left in his drawer after he moved out. Overall I found it too complicated, glacially slow when working with graphs, but fell in love with RPN (reverse polish notation) on which it is based. In my first precalculus attempt, I decided instead to settle on the Educalc app for iOS for my graphing needs and use the 48 for quick calculations.

For this time around I researched for a perfect solution, meaning one that relied on just one piece of hardware. After going back and forth I realized that there was no physical calculator that met all my needs in one package: RPN, CAS, college oriented, fast, no rechargeable battery (I don't want my fancy calculator bricked when the battery finally gives up its ghost) and if possible, cheap. Why not go for multiple solutions? In the end, I decided to stick with the 48 for the straightforward operations, get a TI-89 titanium for the rest of the stuff except actually graphing, and the Educalc or Desmos apps for graph viewing.

One of the alternatives that I brushed off out of hand was the Voyage 200 because I thought that a standard-sized calculator was the obvious route.  A few days ago I got my titanium from eBay and dove in to learn how to use it. When I got to the split-screen feature it brought, front and center, the obvious smallness of the screen. I can manage it, but it is still uncomfortable. Then, there's the patent contriveness to getting many of the titanium's functions. This made me look back to the Voyage and while it seemed to alleviate these problems, it also had a big wart itself in that the ribbon that feeds the screen seems to lose contact in some cases after some years of use generating lines on the display. The similar shaped TI 92+, on the other hand is essentially the same as the 89 and Voyage and, judging by number of publications on eBay and mentions on Google, way less susceptible to pixel loss, even despite its age, than the latter. It is also cheaper. So I ordered the 92+ and plan to resell the titanium.

Dummies Books 


One of the incentives for getting a titanium, was that it had a Dummies book written for it. I read somewhere that this calculator had a learning curve, and since I like the approach of the Dummies series, I decided to get a copy. Now, that I have both in my hands I see that while it is true that that the titanium has a load of features buried in it, the manual from TI doesn't do a bad job explaining them, making the Dummies book a good head start, but not really necessary at all. It is also good for the TI 92+

Still, I'm not giving up on Dummies. I plan to acquire Calculus for Dummies. It has very good reviews and there's no harm in backup, since I don't have the benefit of a live instructor. If I want to compare something even further, I plan on borrowing Calculus by Stewart of which my local library has also many copies.

How I study


You won't get any insights from my study habits as they are quite ordinary and nothing special. I can allow myself to 60-90 min daily (including weekends). Most of my learning I get from solving exercises rather than through the dreary explanations, though I do both. In high school I discovered that music makes all the difference in the world and my best listening is during the studying periods. I allocate my favorite artists and vinyls for them which had so much to my overall enjoyment. I find math enjoyable, but this takes it to a different level and keeps me going. I am frequently looking forward to getting back to my exercises.

Now, I have noticed that many of the concepts while the look transparent and almost obvious in retrospect, are not immediately accessible to me. It takes a few tries for those aha! moments and for comprehension to settle in. It is in these instances that I can see what the difference is between highly intelligent people and regular ones is: they 'get' it right away. Once I get traction, I acquire the skill and even, at times, some speed.

Leithold


Prof. Leithold appears to have passed on already. The latest edition of The Calculus is the seventh and I'm getting that.

The journey


I'll be tweeting my journey with the hash tag #onwardtoleithold , just don't expect any frequent posts

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Castlevania music: chiptune on vinyl 2


This post has been the making for a long while, because I didn't want to write before having all the announced Castlevania titles in my hands (sorry, no Kid Dracula) and having a back to back listening experience. With the final release of Symphony of the Night, now is the time. All these releases come from Mondo.

Castlevania


Once you get over the stunning artwork on the front cover and the level layout gatefold (I don't care about the Medusa), the most noticeable aspect of this release is its shortness, it's awkward 10 inch size and its relative high price. Being generous, it feels like Mondo had to compromise here in some way for us to have the soundtrack at all. I appreciate having it, but it still an uncomfortable purchase even more than a year on. The music sounds fuller, coming out of a nice system than from the old TV speakers back then and from all the releases here, this one is the closest to the original intention of re-creating a monster movie vibe. I like the inclusion of the sound effects in Walking on Edge, but I believe that they overstay their welcome. I got the plain old black vinyl variant and despite all the color schemes of the rest I think it the most handsome looking.

Listen for: Poison Mind. My complaint is that it is too short. They could have added another extra loop for this one. Everything else sounds lovely as well.


Castlevania II


Simon's Quest presents us with the differing NES and famicom versions. The music from this game is the scariest-sounding from the whole series (not on Silent Hill level but still) and the famicom version enhances the experience with a richer texture. This title shares with Castlevania I both the great artwork and short running time/high price combo. When I ordered I had the opportunity of getting the night and day split and I still kick myself for not doing so. The center labels are also the best for the titles here.

Listen for: the famicom version.



Castlevania III


Dracula's Curse feels the most balanced of the Castlevania soundtracks with each song consistently keeping the momentum going and with no obvious throwaway tracks. If you put aside Simon's Quest for a moment, it is the first one that offers alternate routes and the track selection reflects that with alternating songs from the lower and upper routes which finally meet at the famous Castlevania hallway.

Unlike Simon's Quest, the NES version is way better than the famicom one, so I would recommend to play the latter first.

The orange splatter variant I got for this one is the second-best looking of the bunch. However, is noticeably crackly at parts. This is no problem for me because the music is so good. The inside of the gatefold could have been better, maybe like the one from Super Castlevania IV if they wanted to keep the level layout idea.

Listen for: Evergreen (probably the sweetest song from all the Castlevania canon) and the underground level, Nightmare on NES side (blown by the sound effects).



Super Castlevania IV


Super Castlevania IV represents a vibrant evolutionary path not taken both in game design and music. As such, the score is way out of the usual Castlevania fare, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. Most of the music has been described already as weird jazz by others and it certainly fits that description.  The instrumentation is appealing and the bass is smooth all throughout.

Unlike Dracula's Curse, the included sound effects are spot-on. If there's is anything lacking, that  is the reprise of Simon's theme on the last battle which made the scene exciting in the first place. Oh, well. The grey vinyl is the least exciting of the group too.

Listen for: The Waterfall & the Sunken City. I hated this last one when I played the game, but now I've been won over by it as it really represents the soundtrack as a whole. I hear a clear connection between the tribalism of the Dungeon music to the Tower of Execution and main theme from Castlevania 64.



Rondo of Blood/ Dracula X


One of the best games I never played is Rondo of Blood. A friend lent me the Dracula X SNES version and it was such a letdown. The music, notwithstanding, was on par with the already impressive Castlevania track record. Mondo could have gotten away with just releasing Rondo, but the double album was an unexpected gift. With the benefit of side-to-side comparison I will hand preference to Rondo. The SNES version does make mighty efforts and comes real close in many of the songs, but Rondo is still better sounding and the better soundtrack. The added bonus of Haunted Castle decisively tilts the balance and ushers the whole package to the 5-star club. Oh, can't wait for a release of the Gameboy/DS games if that ever happens.

The inverted gatefold art covering both games, MCs & bosses is the best of the bunch.

Listen for: Den (for the mini-medley), Mary Samba (way to end the game! Not like the dour Richter end theme), & Cross Your Heart. I would throw in Cross a Fear as well from the PC Engine as a good theme that has been forgotten. The best remixes of Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears are the ones found here IMO.



Symphony of the Night


SOTN was certain to be a 5-star no matter what. However, the artwork, though reminiscent of the original, wastes all the available space in just 4 portraits. Mondo had released  a poster with better artwork some months prior. What happened? Why the change? A waste in my opinion.

Now too, the infamous side D is a treat that isn't. In the flurry of good news surrounding the release of Rondo and Symphony one extra bit was the inclusion of tracks from the Saturn version of SOTN. My elation soured immediately when I checked the track listings and found my hopes weren't realized with the absence of the Cursed Prison Saturn-exclusive theme Chaconne c moll. This one is not as immediately catchy as the rest of the soundtrack and its obscurity makes it fall between the cracks, but, in my opinion, it is the most accomplished composition of the game series. It follows closely the example set by Bach's passacaglia BWV 582 which is breathtaking. As far as I know it has never been recorded and it is a shame that it didn't make it into this release. Did we really need more versions of Bloody Tears, Vampire Killer & Beginning? If you have listened up to this point, they are already tired and do not add anything worthwhile (well, the last version of Beginning does get a passing mark on my book).

Finally, I've got to say that I Am the Wind is missing. I am happy for its absence, but it is an integral part of SOTN nevertheless.

Listen for:  all the little things going on the background on much of the music. I'd like to point out the obscure and tender Nocturne and Abandoned Pit, which sounds very spooky isolated now from gameplay sounds. Also check out the Librarian theme for its Arabian Nights feel.



There are no obvious drawbacks with the pressings presented here except the aforementioned CV III.

Recommendations


So, what to aim for? It's surprising, but all releases get high marks and maybe one's budget can't be stretched to cover them all. Here's what I recommend:

If you're a fan: get Symphony of the Night no question about it.

If you're a non-fan: get Super Castlevania IV. I too, didn't expect this, but I think it very interesting musically speaking and more apt to reach to a wider audience. It is far-out, but stems from a familiar base.

If you want to keep finding stuff on repeated listenings (replay value if you will): SOTN & SC IV.

If you are going after value: Rondo + Dracula X or Dracula's Curse. If you played only one of these, go for the nostalgia.

If you want cover art for display, get Simon's Quest.

If you want gatefold art, get Rondo of Blood.

If you don't care about the music at all and just want something to collect and maybe show around, get the original Castlevania.

What's in for the future? The standout absence is Bloodlines. There are three or four themes, foremost Iron Blue Intention and Requiem for the Nameless Victims (probably the best Castlevania ending after Evergreen/Flashback), that are interesting, but I'm on the fence on this one if it ever comes to light.

Now, the gameboy/DS titles from Circle of the Moon on, are another matter. These were given for the most part great themes and are an obvious way forward. I'm all on in on these and if it were up to me, I'd see for there release first.

There's also the parallel project Resurrection of the Night (Materia Collective) which is a funded Kickstarter release. This one is special because it uses real instruments and choir. Once It ships and I add it up to my collection (I backed for its realization and for the vinyl reward), I'll include it here.

Updates:

04/08/20

Got the Materia Collective backer vinyl last year. Still have not listened to it.

There's another recent release that deserves mentioning because it exists, it is a kind of an oddity, and might interest those are not completionists and this is Castlevania the Adventure Rebirth released by Ship to Shore and distributed by various. Judging by the selection of the tracks, this one could also serve as a representative selection from the pre-3-D era in remix form. I myself didn't get it at release time because I had most of the music already, but may do so in the future. This release's rendition of Riddle, which is used for the final battle, is the best I've heard, so there is something to look forward to, especially if one also adds the medley on side B.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Fixing sibilance with a parametric equalizer


What I like best about vinyl are the vocals. Instrumentals, particularly piano, I believe sound just as good on CD than on vinyl, but vocals are different as these are where I notice most clearly the warmth of the format. There's the big problem, though, of sibilance. I have had some success against it over the years and shared some of it on previous posts, but I've learned the hard way that sometimes the source is to blame.

I had always wondered about the pre-out/main in jacks on the back of my preamp and found out that I could hook up equipment through them. A graphic equalizer was an obvious choice, but I didn't like the fact that the bands were pretty much set. As it turns out, parametric equalizers address this and found them readily available on eBay, mostly vintage. I settled for the least expensive SAE 180 from the early 80s at $140 and I received it in great shape.

As compared to the graphic equalizer, a parametric one has the double benefit of allowing the pinpointing of a certain central frequency and the amplitude of the effect. For sibilance purposes I already knew the expected frequencies on which to attack, but was greatly aided by an online recommendation to boost the suspect frequencies in the initial pass to better pinpoint the center. After this, it was only a matter of opening and closing the octave range and decibel volume starting both with the least amount of change possible to get the desired effect, that is mellow the ess sounds while preserving as much as possible the tone of the rest. Just killing the identified frequencies doesn't work because although it may appear that nothing interesting is happening on them, the wholesale removal of brightness makes the music dull and unexciting. Once I tried it, it became apparent to me.

By some experimentation I narrowed the parameters to a general range I could work with. Depending on the source, I tweak a bit. However, I soon discovered what is probably the greatest downturn to my solution and that is the noise floor. My particular equalizer (don't know if this is widespread) has a noticeable noise level that gets worse as one narrows the octave range in the high frequencies. Widening it to around two octaves just barely subdues it to make the whole scheme work, but just barely.

To compensate the loss of brightness by the wide octaves I resorted to raising the level at 1.2 kHz, the highest frequency I could get from the low-frequency sliders, with a three octaves spread by a couple of decibels and very nearly got back all the high frequencies that I had lost, while still keeping the sibilance in check.

This model has a button to activate/deactivate the tone effects and has rec out jacks presumably to pass the signal on the yet another processor.

A couple of small negatives: there's no power switch; presumably it has to be plugged on the rear of your preamp to pop into life when you power the system on; the manual surely makes this clear, but the only place I could find the download online required registration and I couldn't bother. Higher models have an on/off button. Another thing to consider is it small overall shape which doesn't allow straightforward stacking: some sort of space has to be found on the side for it.

In the end I got 85 to 95% of my wish and am very happy about it. Is it just cosmetic? Yes. Does it fix the underlying problems with my set up? Not at all. Does it work for my ears? You betcha.

Approximately what my frequency  curve looks like (using Magix ACL 11)
When I add back just a bit of brightness


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Dragon Quest Symphonic Suite + String Quartet

So now that I had acquired the more elusive We Love Wizardry, I was looking forward to getting hold of the Dragon Quest LPs from the 80s. These comprise I-IV, are orchestrated but also include the famicom chiptunes.

While browsing around, and adding up what it would cost me to get good copies, I came across a compilation CD purple box set on Amazon's Japan store which made me scuttle my original project. For less money, I could get all the orchestrated versions from I to VII in new condition and pristine sound if I could let go of the original chiptunes and the Akira Toriyama artwork which aren't included on the CDs. Since, in the end, I cared more for the music itself I bought the box set and I'm perfectly happy.

There was a rival black box set that included up to IX which was of even more limited issue. I decided against it for its approach which groups the themes in similar groups for comparison as in all the town themes, and all the fight themes together, etc. I rather wanted more the traditional sequential presentation for each game where I could follow the drama through my ears. I could always buy the additional CDs up to the present individually.

The music for the purple box set is performed by the London symphonic orchestra and here are some of my musical impressions of it. Be, however, informed that I only ever played DQ I & II and had the opportunity of watching the anime series (90s). This means that I was not familiar at all from IV on which shows in what follows.

Dragon Quest I + II

DQ I


Overture March. The title music is probably the most memorable piece from the whole series, if anything because it is retaken by each game. Here, in its first appearance, consists in the fanfare and march followed by some small variations. Variations are the norm for this first release and in my case they are always welcome because they play on the things you know and love. The fanfare and march is very exciting and sets you in the mood for the things to come.

Château Ladutorm. The castle theme is played delicately on strings followed by a small fantasy on its theme.

People. The town theme, now that I can hear it orchestrated, feels very pastoral-like. This one now is extended moving from strings to glockspiel to woodwinds. So playful in its entirety that it could function as a theme for a children's show.

Unknown World. The overworld theme played by a single flute occasionally supported by heavy strings inspires a sense of loneliness. As you know, there was just a lone hero with no party system. This theme is the least changed from the game rendition.

Fight. Now, the battle theme is one of the worst, if not the worst, battle music I have ever heard. The first time I played the game I thought that it was broken. With the benefit of the orchestration is now more listenable and some enjoyment can be drawn out of it. The battle alert is played out and an extension for the theme adds more drama.

Dungeons. The loveliest piece is this one, narrowly edging the overworld theme. There is a feel of cool, spooky darkness where you can almost feel the condensation on the dungeon walls. In the NES version, once you got to the castle of the Dragonlord the music became slower and deeper the further in the player explores it. This effect is reproduced here with variations.

King Dragon. I'm not especially fond of the gong at the beginning of the final fight with the Dragonlord as it gives an out of place Chinese feel to it; however, the rest of the track more than makes up for it. The growing pressure clearly reminds me of Mars from Holst's The Planets. There is something else that rings a bell… Bolero?

Finale. This first victory theme for the series is very solid and in part so touching that it gives me the chills especially the rising crescendo.


DQ II


Dragonquest March. The title fanfare for the second installment has a more brassy feel.

Only Lonely Boy. One of the longest in its original NES inception is surprising now in its instrumentation work  performed only by plucked strings. I would have liked some other idea, but as it is, it is welcome.

Pastoral ~ Catastrophe. I cannot remember having heard this one at all before though, it is still evocative.

Château. I believe this one is the most polished track for this title and and the most Baroque in the box set. Sounds like an adagio Bach would write in a calmer season. Sadness.

Town. As you would expect, the jolly town theme is yet another jolly town theme. This one has an extension and I like those horns.

Fight in the Dungeon~ Devils Tower. This one gives me the sensation of listening something out of the Smurfs were evil is not really evil but fun, safe evil. Impressionistic as well.

Requiem. Another effective theme that ties up well with the Château music.

Endless World. The overworld themes bouquet starts melancholicly as if recovering from defeat and then setting the eyes high. The oboe solo makes me want to remember something. The lonely theme from the first game sounds now even more lonesome than before and the third overworld with hope and power. In conjunction, these three together are the most cinematic up until now.

Beyond the Waves. I don't really care much for the ship themes, but there are really many of them all throughout the games. This one sounds like a waltz for a ball.

Deathfight~ Dead or Alive. The final boss fight sounds now way better than it used to. The drums give and take and on the whole, is the most complex for the game. A quick note here: this is the hardest final boss encounter I've ever experienced. In one round the enemy would deal a brutal amount of damage; in the next one, it would cast heal all on himself.

My Road My Journey. The final theme is a crowning achievement in emotion. This one is probably in my top two ending themes of all time and it is reused for the anime series. This is what an ending theme should really sound like. I frequently tear up a bit when I listen to it or remember it.



Dragon Quest III


Roto. Another good version of the fanfare and march. Unextended.

Adventure. Also occurred in the anime series.

Dungeon ~ Tower ~ The Phantom Ship. This one contains another solid dungeon theme which was also featured in the anime series. The phantom part reminds me of the music you hear in the lower levels of Castlevania III.

Into the Legend. The final theme is on par with the previous two.


Dragon Quest IV


Overture. This version of introductory theme is different enough to be enjoyed on its own.

Comrades. This one is a long succession of great themes, including one in Spanish style, which by itself makes the album.

In a town. Some jazz.


Dragon Quest V


Of the collection, I feel this is the weakest title. Not bad, but I couldn't find a theme to hang onto. Maybe perhaps the battle music?

Dragon Quest VI


Things noticeably pick up in this installment, though not quite on par with the first four titles.

Through the Fields~ Wandering through the Silence~ Another World. Another nice musical collection of themes which brings the world to life. There is more jazz here as well.
The final piece clearly reminds me of the main title and march from A Fistful of Dynamite by Ennio Morricone. It even has corresponding instrumental wah wahs.

Flying Bed. Sounds to me as it were composed by Leroy Anderson.


Dragon Quest VII


Overture VII. The main theme once more. By now it hasn't really changed over the last three installments.

Strolling into Town. More jazz this time is Sinatra style.

Memories of a Lost World~ Moving through the Present. The first part reminds me of a Final Fantasy IV theme.

Fighting Spirit~ World of the Strong. Another good fight theme.

Screams from the Tower Monsters. Very effective. I liked it.

Orgo Demila. I hear some Rite of Spring in here.


In the end this is an excellent collection yet one that is not uniformly so. It would appear to me that that the composer's best ideas were used up on the first four installments and on the later games he coasts on a trodden path. Notwithstanding, he still manages to surprise from time to time and the orchestrations is what any game music aficionado could hope for.

Now, the experience doesn't end here.

String Quartet "Dragon Quest"



While completing my order I came across and added the string quartet adaptations album. In general I like how strings sound, but I cannot wrap around my head how to enjoy a proper string quartet. I figured that with uncomplicated, beautiful known melodies I could have some traction. I left this album last, after I had been acquainted with the box set and am happy to say that it was not disappointed in the least. This unassuming album indeed is a very special one that not only retakes the themes but manages to incorporate more compositional ideas to them. The music stands on a different level than the already great box set. I believe that each piece, each track represents the best version the composer could dream of. Each one by itself is like a gem for its quality and would be a standout anywhere else. Having them all set in one place is just breathtaking. There is no chaff here and I call it now: this is the best album of the year for me.

If you're going to buy only one album I would recommend you to be this one. It can be identified by its white cover and ivy motif. 


What's next for the future? There's a bewildering amount of releases for the Dragon Quest series judging by the videogame music database page on it. I'm very glad of having struck gold on my first attempt, but I'm not so sure if I would like getting more and more albums as I feel I would be getting negative utility quite soon. In other words, I feel I had already had my fill. I intended to get the symphonic from VIII to the present, each album bought separately. These other albums appear to be well rated by others, but I would need some other push to order them. Had I actually played the games, things would surely be different. Now however, if there's ever another string quartet release, I will pounce on it in a heartbeat.